(Almost) Unoffendable

Why Ephesians 4:26 Gets in the Way of an Otherwise Great Idea

unoffendable-book-mockup

A new friend recommended Unoffendable to me three weeks ago. I downloaded the Audible recording as soon as I got home. Approximately three days later I finished it. Then I did something I’ve never done before with any book, audible or hard copy, other than the Bible and Good Night Moon. I listened to it again. The whole thing. Most of it in one sitting.

The premise of the book is simple: there’s no place for anger in the life of the Christian. Despite our natural inclination to justify our “righteous anger,” despite our compulsion to cling to the indignation that satisfies our lust for vengeance, retribution for wrongs suffered unjustly – despite all that, Brant claims there is not one verse in the Bible, not one sophisticated and theologically nuanced argument that allows for us to hold onto anger.

He points out with clarity, humor, and a healthy dose of humility (his suggested alternative to anger) that our “natural response” is biblically unjustifiable and therefore inappropriate for that very reason – it’s “natural” – i.e., fleshly, or part of the old “natural” man that we are commanded in no uncertain terms to “put away” (Colossians 3:8; Ephesians 4:31).

I want to embrace this idea. It’s a sharply defined, all-or-nothing approach to anger that appeals to my all-or-nothing personality. And Brant is right about the effect of this anger–smushing discipline: the result of refusing to be offended leads to a more peaceful life and better sleep.

But here’s the problem: Ephesians 4:26. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger,” (NET). Brant doesn’t really unpack this verse very well. As Dr. Dan Wallace points out in the NET Bible notes on Ephesians 4:26, “Although several translations render the phrase ‘Be angry and do not sin’ as ‘If you are angry do not sin,’ such is unlikely on a grammatical, lexical, and historical lexical level,” (see his article on this verse in Criswell Theological Review, 3, 1989, 352-372). Bottom line – there is such a thing as righteous anger because the Bible wouldn’t command us to do something that is unrighteous.

Brant claims that anger should never be our motivation for doing what is right. But the Bible never claims that anger should be the motivation for doing the right thing. It simply says, “Be angry, and don’t sin.” The target of our anger (sin) is important. The duration of our anger (short) is important. Anger is a reaction to sin, not a motivation to correcting the sin.

Why react to sin in anger? Because in so doing we mirror God’s righteous displeasure with sin – which we then forgive, just as Jesus forgave, and as we are commanded to do as well. If I am offendable (as God is, by the way), that doesn’t mean that I wallow in a vindictive, get-even, spirit. I acknowledge the offense, I confront the offender, I forgive the offense and I move on.

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